Juvenile Detention Alternatives and Mass Incarceration

The Juvenile Justice Initiative released our latests recommendations for detention reform in our report Reimagining Detention of Juveniles in Illinois: Detention as a Last Resort, July 2019.   

Here are the recommendations:

RECOMMENDATION #1: Require that juvenile judges and law enforcement exhaust all less restrictive alternatives before using juvenile detention (as currently required by statute prior to commitment to IDJJ) and insist on annually evaluated, consistent and vetted screening tools to support these discretionary decisions.

RECOMMENDATION # 2: Reduce disparities across the state by creating a data focused plan to addressing all disparities including economic, educational, racial, and geographic, in order to ensure that similarly situated youth are treated equally.

RECOMMENDATION # 3: Raise the minimum age of detention to 14 across the state in order to end detention of elementary and middle school age children.

RECOMMENDATION #4: Reduce reliance on detention & ensure proportionality by doing the following:

  • –  Ensure compliance with existing state law that prohibits detention for status offenses.

  • –  Prohibit detention for non-violent offenses including property and drug offenses.

  • –  End the use of detention for violations of probation by utilizing intermediate community- based sanctions.

  • –  Assess the use of warrants as the predicate for juvenile detention and improve policies, procedures and practices to reduce the incidence of detention based on warrants.

    RECOMMENDATION # 5: Require 24/7 review of the decision to detain a child. Ensure there is a panel of trained and resourced lawyers who are available on the weekend across state to be present in person with youth to represent them in detention review hearings.

    RECOMMENDATION # 6: Ensure public and independent oversight of juvenile detention through timely and public reporting of the use of detention, through annual policy analysis of the data with recommendations for improvement, and through routine civil monitoring.

    RECOMMENDATION #7: Revise detention standards to ensure compliance with national and international best practice and human dignity.

    RECOMMENDATION #8: Require the reporting and analysis of the use, impact and cost benefit of Electronic Monitoring of children. Develop standards for use, length of time, and monitoring practices.

To view the full report:  JJI Detention Report July 2019

Source(s): JJI 2018 Report, Illinois Juvenile Data Retention Report 2016

Growth of Incarceration in the US (4)

Juvenile detention is both hugely expensive for taxpayers – it costs Illinois over $85,000 annually to house a youth in prison – and fails to improve public safety or rehabilitate youth, with half of incarcerated youth returning within three years. Incarcerating youth also exposes them to potentially harmful environments.

Community based alternatives are dramatically more successful at preventing youth from reoffending – at far less cost. Redeploy Illinois provides counties with fiscal incentives to provide services to youth as an alternative to incarceration in state facilities.

In recent years, many states, including Illinois, often prompted in part by budget crises and/or news about abusive conditions in the prisons, have closed juvenile correctional facilities.

“Right-sizing” the Department of Juvenile Justice

Illinois is one of the national leaders in juvenile de-incarceration, having reduced court commitments to juvenile prisons by over 73% from a high of nearly 2300 in 1998 to under 500 today.  But we still have more work to do. Recent expert reports on the conditions of Illinois’ juvenile prisons show a broken system that should not be housing our most vulnerable children.  Incarcerated children are not receiving the mental health treatment they need, the education they deserve, and many remain in their cells for close to 24 hours a day without adequate programming or activities.  Read the full reports that were filed in the ACLU lawsuit against the Department of Juvenile Justice here.


JJI webpage on 24/7 Review of Decision to Detain a Child

Center for Children’s Law and Policy (2008). The Second Century Juvenile Justice Reform in IllinoisIllinois: Models for Change

Models for Change: Innovations in Practice, summarizes four promising practice innovations that have emerged from the MacArthur Models for Change funding and technical assistance in four key partner states, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington, November, 2010

The Second Century: Juvenile Justice Reform in Illinois, Center for Children’s Law and Policy, looks at promising juvenile justice policies and practices in Illinois, December, 2008

No More Children Left Behind Bars: A Briefing on Youth Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School, March, 2008

Alternatives to the Secure Detention and Confinement of Juvenile Offenders, James Austin, Kelly Dedel Johnson and Ronald Weitzer, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September, 2005